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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Usain Bolt appears to be a shining light in a sport that has struggled with its dark side

Here is a look at the legacy of the 30-year-old Jamaican, who looks to bring down the curtain on an unparalleled career on Saturday night.

Usain Bolt adopts his trademark celebration after winning the Men's 200m Final at the London Olympics PA
Usain Bolt adopts his trademark celebration after winning the Men's 200m Final at the London Olympics PA

It has taken Usain St Leo Bolt a little under 11 minutes to establish himself as the greatest individual sprinter of modern – and probably all – athletic history.

In the course of 658 seconds, spread over eight years and seven major tournaments, the 30-year-old from Trelawny, Jamaica, has run 43 heats and finals in seven Olympic and World Championships, picking up six 100m and seven 200m gold medals. He also picked up six 4x100m relay golds in that time.

On Saturday night the curtain will drop on an extraordinary career, and beyond the other athletes lining up alongside the ‘Lightning’ Bolt, there will be few in the London Stadium or among the hundreds of millions watching on TV rooting for anyone else picking up the 100m gold.

If he is in a position to pull off his trademark 'lightning Bolt' celebrations late into the night, who could begrudge him his final moment - among many - of glory?

With the world records for both sprinting disciplines under his belt too (9.58sec for the 100m, 19.19sec for the longer distance, both set at the 2009 Berlin world championships), if Bolt is true to his word and hangs up his shoes after the race, he will leave behind a practically unblemished record.

Only silver medals in the 200m and 4x100m relay at the Osaka World Championships in 2007 ruined a 100% record, as well as the retrospective revoking of the Jamaican relay team’s gold from the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a positive drug test by his compatriot Nesta Carter.

From the humblest of upbringings – his parents Wellesley and Jennifer Bolt ran the local grocery story in the small town of Sherwood Content – Bolt has transcended athletics, joining the likes of Muhammad Ali and Pele in becoming more than just a sportsman.

He’s come a long way from the child who remembers in his autobiography a rural idyll where “yams, bananas, coca, coconuts, mangoes, oranges [and] guavas grew in and around the backyard” – in 2016 he was estimated to have earned $32m, and he numbers presidents and pop stars among his friends.

As ebullient and irrepressible off the track as he is brash and imperious on it, the 6ft 5in is synonymous with the green, gold and black of his country's flag. Alongside the current raft of athletes who have dominated the sprint events for the last decade, he has brought a national pride to Jamaican last seen in region when the West Indies cricket team steamrollered all before them in the 1980s.

It's hard to give much credence to accusations of arrogance and excessive self-confidence against him. In a sport where as much of the race is won in the mind as on the track, his posturing and jubilant celebrations are just part of the overall package.

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In a sport which has struggled with its dark side over the past few decades, as amateurism gave way to a win-at-all-costs mentality driven by nationalist pride and individual greed, Bolt appears to be a shining light, winning so effortlessly and with such joy that he makes it all look so easy.

He is acutely aware, too, of the need for his golden to remain untarnished for the sake of himself, his country and his sport. Talking ahead of the championships this week about the impact Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme had on athletics, he was damning.

“I don’t think it gets any worse than that,” he said “But it’s on its way back up now. Hopefully, athletes will see what’s going on and understand that if they don’t stop what they’re doing the sport will die. And hopefully they will understand what the sport is going through and what they need to do as athletes to help it move forward.”

What will Bolt’s next challenge be? Football was his first love – he is a keen Manchester United fan, having trained with the club – and he has expressed a desire to get involved in the game, perhaps even as a player. He also runs a charitable foundation that supports children in Jamaica.

Athletics will be the poorer for his leaving it, but there is little doubt that his massive personality will fade from the world stage.